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February 07, 2005

A Touch of Zen

Yes, Anime Expo is looming on my mind, as I am digging through my cache of Asian movies that I bought at AX2003! I have now finally watched A Touch of Zen, and all I can say is, "wow."

This film is presented in two parts, in the grand tradition of serial adventures. I would not say the two parts stand alone, though each is presented with opening credits as if separate movies. Totalling their run time together, ATOZ clocks in at nearly three hours! I took advantage of Kelly's various extracurricular classes to watch the two parts about a week apart.

The film is often slow, pacing itself in a manner not much seen in modern film. The first forty minutes are devoted to developing the character of Hu, a bachelor artist who lives with his mother in penury in an abandoned fort and resists her repeated entreaties to take the Imperial service exam. A few other characters make their entrance, each adding a new grace note to the slow story unfolding. I was almost disappointed when, three quarters of an hour into the film, swordplay makes a first appearance. But I soon grew used to it, and mark this as a true wuxia movie.

Granted, it is not a perfect film. I'd cut back a number of scenes, and leave a few out entirely. But even at three hours, I was fascinated. The biggest problem with this film is not the pacing, or the story, or the somewhat corny martial arts, where trampolines are used to induce the illusion of flying monks. The single flaw I wish I could correct is the low contrast, murky print which Tai Seng managed to put on DVD. Daylight scenes are colorful enough, but there are a number of night scenes, and I missed quite a lot of action due to the poor contrast.

When the Star Wars boxed set came out, much was made of John Lowry's restoration work, using a phalanx of 600 Powermac G5s running custom software to remove dust and noise from the digitized prints. Each movie took a month to restore, and the personal attention of Lowry and his band of wizards. When I think of what he could do with A Touch of Zen, I kind of tear up.

So that's my wish. Some cineaste philanthropist with too much cash and a serious jones for this 1971 King Hu film steps up and lets loose the dogs of technology on this wonderful movie. I can dream, can't I?

Posted by dpwakefield at February 7, 2005 08:05 PM


Another fan of A Touch of Zen!

I watched it in one sitting a couple of years ago. It's interesting to see that fight in the bamboo forest turn up in films such as House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Posted by: Bill Humphries at March 2, 2005 12:08 AM

Yes, it's just such an elemental scene. I think King Hu came up with it first. Wonder who came up with fighting on the surface of the water (Hero) first?

As for King Hu, my next film to purchase is Come Drink With Me, which is in fact from earlier (1966) than ATOZ (1971).

Posted by: Donald Wakefield at March 2, 2005 06:59 AM